I have to start by saying that Oxenfree is already one of my favourite games so far this year. It’s a pretty simple game in terms of the gameplay mechanics, but its one of the unique and absorbing video game experiences I have had in a while.
Oxenfree will instantly impress you, with beautifully designed environments and animation. The game feels like an interactive graphic novel or cartoon. I would describe the game as a supernatural adventure game. I had no idea what the game was about when I began, and at first it seems like a typical teenage coming of age story. The game unfolds in ways I didn’t expect. The game follows a group of teenagers, who visit an island that has become a yearly trip. It felt like a pretty generic story at first, but I slowly found that the characters were interesting and developed over the course of the adventure.
Oxenfree focuses on the various relationships between the characters. The game has a horror movie type vibe to it, mixed with old programmes like Scooby Doo and Saved by the Bell. The range of characters all felt believable, unique and have their own traits. You play as a young girl called Alex, with bright blue hair. The story opens with you on a boat heading to the island, with her new step-brother and close friend Ren. When they get to the island, they meet the other characters, and from their things start to get increasingly mysterious and unsettling. Alex has a radio, that is used to discover certain places and mysteries. I don’t want to give anything way, but the radio plays a key factor in the story.
The game uses a unique dialogue system that works very well. The game focuses on dialogue choices and branching narrative decisions. What makes it unique is how you can still walk about and explore whilst in conversation. The conversations happen through speech bubbles, and when you have a dialogue choice to make, three bubbles appear above your head. What’s also really interesting is that if you wait long enough they fade away, meaning you don’t actually have to say anything in some situations. I loved this because it gave me a real sense of control of how I wanted Alex to interact with others.
In the story the group becomes separated, and Alex decides to try and find her friends. You can also choose who to go and look for, and go to places on the island that you decide to go first. You slowly learn more about the island as you begin to explore. There are various signs around the island, that you can tune your radio into a frequency that reveals the island’s history. I thought that this was a really clever idea, and added more depth and interesting back story to the island. There are various locations to uncover, including forests, campsites, towns, bridges and many other mysterious places.
The world feels abandoned, but at the same time, you feel as though you are being watched. Every time you say in the dialogue options have impact on what other characters think of you. The choices you make aren’t directly obvious, but I noticed a character’s face would pop up above certain characters at different points. I actually played the first half an hour of the game 3 times just to see how different dialogue choices played out. The game manages to use dialogue extremely well, and conversations flow very naturally. Also, the voice acting and writing is fantastic. The dialogue is such an integral part of the game, and thankfully it nails it. The characters and story kept me absorbed throughout the entire duration, and I found that I was truly interested in each of the five characters. The conversations may seem simplistic, but they offer real insight to the different personalities of the characters. You can also interact with objects in the environment, like pick things up, take a drink, read signs and other things along the way.
The game is fairly short, and there isn’t really anything too challenging to face in the game. There are some puzzle like elements, but they never felt hard to figure out. The game is mostly about exploration, character development and learning more about the mysteries of the island. The game is certainly worth a second play through, just to see the different choices and routes you could have taken.
I don’t normally find myself so absorbed in a game, but the characters made me want to find out what was going to happen. The game is heartfelt, creepy and also has some funny moments. The story touches on some really emotional themes, that help you care about the characters. The game can actually get pretty dark at times, but this is balanced out with some lighthearted moments, and genuinely funny bits of dialogue.
The presentation of Oxenfree is simply fantastic. The world is beautifully designed, the characters are well animated, and the sound design suits the gameplay perfectly. I can’t really say too much more without spoiling anything, but I can say that it has been my favourite game of the year so far. The game isn’t particularly long, and doesn’t offer too much of a challenge, but it has fantastic characters, stunning design and characters that are unique and interesting. I highly recommend this game.
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